Very interesting piece on Howl Round about what the different sections of those involved with theatre (the producers, the audience, the critics) want in a theatre review. What makes a good review? What is the impact of a review? Does the public, with so much information at our finger tips, rely on the reviewer to tell us what to think about a piece of theatre?

In the past ten years working with schools and students that part of my professional life has been mostly non-existent. The success of one of my plays has to do with whether or not it’s right for a school, or whether a teacher has the right cast, or whether the subject matter is applicable.  There is no middle man approval, it’s a direct relationship with a customer. No review required.

This wasn’t always the case. Craig and I spent a good number of years on the Fringe festival circuit where the review was a direct correlation to how well you did at a certain festival.  Good reviews meant butts in seats. And the number of those butts would be directly affected if you received a four star or a five star review. I wanted good reviews, not necessarily because I wanted praise.  They represented something tangible to an audience who didn’t know my work from a hole in the ground.

Although having said that, my favourite anti-review story was of a show called “Sexy. Bloody. Dirty. Scary.” (I can’t remember what I did yesterday, but the name of a Fringe show from 1996 is on the tip of my tongue) They  received a swath of horrible reviews, even got “the bomb scare’ from one paper. And yet, they sold out every show.

I’ve tried to take my experience with reviews with a grain of salt. Reviewers aren’t perfect and because they like you doesn’t mean you’re really any good. We got one great review on year from a guy which caused us to go see another play this reviewer had given a rave to. And it was awful. Horrible. Another reviewer praised our show up and down, and then turned around and got one part of the story insanely wrong. It makes you think. And get out the salt shaker.

What do I want when I read reviews? I want to know about the experience. I want to know if the reviewer didn’t laugh, if the audience around them was laughing. I want to be able to see  the world of the play in the way the reviewer sets the scene. I want expertise or an acknowledgement of their lack of expertise. I want a review written by someone who wants the best for the play and shares calmly without sarcasm and attitude if that doesn’t happen.

What do you want when you read theatre reviews?

  • Billyhouck

    I had the best and worst reviews of my life written by two guys who saw the exact same production of a show I wrote. It’s the nature of criticism and evaluation. Everybody gets to have an opinion; they come free with every ticket.

    I also worked for about a decade as a theatre critic.
    My basic thesis was always that people should go to the theatre.
    My editor told me my job was to tell people what a show was about, how much tickets cost, and if it was worth their time to go out and see it.
    One of the meanest reviews I ever wrote was for a production of Richard III that cast all Richard’s henchmen as women who were constantly making out with him. I ran into a cast member years later at a reception. She thanked me for my review: “We were all afraid to tell the director she was wrong…”

    It’s really exhausting writing reviews.
    I would much rather write a play.